Good health begins in the gut, and at the core of digestive well-being lies the often under-appreciated hero: stomach acid. While it might be tempting to associate stomach acid with discomfort or heartburn, its role in maintaining a healthy gut is crucial. In this article, I'll cover the significance of stomach acid for overall gut health and why striking the right balance is key.
The basics of stomach acid
Stomach acid, or gastric acid, primarily consists of hydrochloric acid (HCl) and other digestive enzymes. Produced by the gastric glands in the stomach lining, stomach acid serves several vital functions in the digestive process. Its acidic nature helps break down food, sterilise it by killing harmful microorganisms, and activate digestive enzymes, ensuring the efficient absorption of nutrients.
One of the primary roles of stomach acid is to initiate the breakdown of complex food particles. As we consume food, the stomach acid begins the process of breaking down proteins into smaller, more digestible peptides. This initial digestion is crucial for the absorption of essential nutrients, such as amino acids, in the small intestine.
Beyond its role in digestion, stomach acid acts as a formidable barrier against harmful bacteria and pathogens present in ingested food. The acidic environment serves as a natural defence mechanism, preventing the overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine and maintaining a healthy balance of gut microbiota. This balance is integral to immune function and overall gut health.
Stomach acid plays a pivotal role in unlocking the nutritional value of the food we eat. It aids in the absorption of vital nutrients, including iron, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B12. Without sufficient stomach acid, the absorption of these nutrients can be compromised, leading to deficiencies and a range of health issues.
Balancing act between the low and too high stomach acid
While stomach acid is essential, an imbalance can result in digestive discomfort and various health issues. Conditions such as acid reflux, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), and low stomach acid can disrupt the delicate equilibrium. So you really want to have high stomach acid but a low number on the pH scale. It's crucial to strike a balance by adopting lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy diet, managing stress, and avoiding overuse of acid-suppressing medications, such as proton-pump inhibitors.
Low stomach acid can lead to various symptoms, such as:
abdominal pains that may be worse on an empty stomach
undigested food in your stools
heartburn and indigestion
constipation, bloating, nausea, diarrhoea
gastroesophageal reflux disease
small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
deficiencies of protein in the body
vitamin B12, iron, calcium and magnesium deficiencies
unexplained weight loss
Also several chronic health conditions have been associated with low levels of stomach acid, like psoriasis, eczema, acne, osteoporosis, lupus, allergies, asthma, thyroid issues, pernicious anemia etc.
Maintaining good acid on the stomach
To promote optimal gut health, it's important to support the production of stomach acid naturally. Stomach acid should be in the lower pH range of 1.5-3.5pH to break down tough proteins and fibrous plants. Below are some natural ways to support and regulate stomach acid levels.
Balanced meals: Eat well-balanced meals with a mix of proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
Fibre-rich foods: Include fibre in your diet through fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to support digestion.
Limit trigger foods: Identify and limit or avoid foods that may trigger acid reflux, such as spicy or acidic foods, caffeine, and chocolate.
Adequate water intake: Stay hydrated to support the production of gastric juices and maintain the mucosal lining of the stomach.
Chew thoroughly: Chew food thoroughly to aid in the mechanical breakdown of food and reduce the burden on stomach acid.
Avoid overeating: Eat smaller, more frequent meals rather than large, heavy meals to prevent overloading the digestive system.
Manage stress: Practice stress-reducing techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga to promote a calm digestive environment.
Regular exercise: Engage in regular physical activity to support overall digestive health.
Include fermented foods: Incorporate naturally fermented foods like yoghurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi into your diet to promote a healthy gut microbiota.
Herbal supplements: Consider using digestive bitters before meals, as they may stimulate the production of digestive juices, including stomach acid.
Apple cider vinegar:
Diluted ACV: Some people find relief by consuming diluted apple cider vinegar in water before meals, as it may promote stomach acid production.
Avoid Overuse of Acid-Suppressing Medications:
Consult your healthcare provider: If you are on acid-suppressing medications, consult with your healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate course of action and explore alternatives.
It's important to note that individual responses to above strategies may vary. Dr. David Jockers has a very good detailed Complete Stomach Acid Guide for Optimal Digestion, from where you can read in more detail why is stomach acid important, what can cause low stomach acid and why it's a problem as well as different ways how to improve your stomach acid levels.
In the complex web of keeping your gut healthy, stomach acid emerges as a central player, orchestrating the digestion and absorption of nutrients while safeguarding against harmful invaders. Understanding the importance of stomach acid allows you to make informed choices that promote digestive well-being, paving the way for overall health and vitality. By taking care of the balance in our stomach and digestive system, we can unleash our body's natural ability to digest food.
If you want to improve your health, improve your diet, make better food choices, have better sleep, don't hesitate to reach out to me for health and nutrition coaching at email@example.com.